Sunday, February 28, 2021

Last Call For Un-Vaccination Nation

As The Atlantic's Derek Thompson notes, the roughly one-quarter to one-third of Americans that are actively refusing a COVID-19 vaccine have multiple different reasons for not trusting or wanting it for them or their families, and finding the alchemical formula for convincing them otherwise is the major public health issue of our time.

Why wouldn’t someone want a COVID-19 vaccine?

Staring at the raw numbers, it doesn’t seem like a hard choice. Thousands of people are dying of COVID-19 every day. Meanwhile, out of the 75,000 people who received a shot in the vaccine trials from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, zero died and none were hospitalized after four weeks. As the United States screams past 500,000 fatalities, the choice between a deadly disease and a shot in the arm might seem like the easiest decision in the world.

Or not. One-third of American adults said this month that they don’t want the vaccine or are undecided about whether they’ll get one. That figure has declined in some polls. But it remains disconcertingly high among Republicans, young people, and certain minority populations. In pockets of vaccine hesitancy, the coronavirus could continue to spread, kill, mutate, and escape. That puts all of us at risk.

Last week, I called several doctors and researchers to ask how we could reverse vaccine hesitancy among the groups in which it was highest. They all told me that my initial question was too simplistic. “Vaccine hesitancy” isn’t one thing, they said. It is a constellation of motivations, insecurities, reasonable fears, and less reasonable conspiracy theories.

“I call it vaccine dissent,” Kolina Koltai, who studies online conspiracy theories at the University of Washington, told me. “And it’s way more complicated than being anti-vaccine. It goes from highly educated parents who are interested in holistic, naturalistic child-rearing to conspiracy theorists who want to abolish vaccines entirely.”

“I call it vaccine deliberation,” said Giselle Corbie-Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina and the director of the UNC Center for Health Equity Research. “For Black and Brown people, this is a time of watchful waiting. It’s a skepticism of a system that has consistently demonstrated that their health is not a priority.”

“It’s not vaccine hesitancy among American Indians, but rather hesitancy and distrust regarding the entire government,” said Margaret Moss, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing and an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota. “After decades of distrust, on top of centuries of genocide, now they appear and say, ‘Here, you have to take this!’”

Let’s not forget vaccine indifference. Two-thirds of Republicans under 30 without a college degree say that they are “not concerned at all” about COVID-19 in their area, according to polling from Civiqs. The same percentage of this group says that they won’t take the vaccine, making them the most vaccine-resistant cohort among all of those surveyed.

Dissent. Deliberation. Distrust. Indifference. Vaccine hesitancy is not one thing. It’s a portfolio. And we’re going to need a portfolio of strategies to solve it.

Kolina Koltai has been studying online disinformation since 2015, with a special focus on anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. “People come into the space for a variety of reasons,” she said. “At first, it was mostly parents, more women than men, and overwhelmingly white, ranging from stay-at-home moms to people with high levels of education who wanted a naturalistic upbringing for their child.” The group didn’t initially have a political lean. But in the past few years, Republican politicians have played more directly to anti-vaccine fears, pulling these groups to the right.

Today, resistance among the GOP seems to be the most significant problem for vaccinating the country. Just half of Republicans say that they plan to get the shot, while the share of pro-vaccine Democrats has increased to more than 80 percent.

Online denialism and conspiracy theorizing about the COVID-19 vaccine is more complex than previous anti-vaccine skepticism, Koltai said. “Crisis often breeds conspiracies, and the extended nature of this public-health crisis has given conspiratorial people lots of time to build elaborate theories,” she told me. Beyond the more outlandish theories—for example, that Bill Gates is using the shots to inject Americans with his microchips—she said that most online skepticism is more prosaic. People claim that the vaccine trials were rushed and shoddy. They worry about the long-term side effects of a newfangled chemical that monkeys around with our cells. They read news reports of people getting sick after having taken the shots, and become afraid.

“You shouldn’t say that people are idiots for believing false or misleading information, because they’re not idiots,” she said. “That’s part of what makes this such a hard problem to solve.”


This is the country that gave us Jonas Salk's polio vaccine. This is also the country that gave us the Tuskeegee Experiment and gave smallpox-laden blankets to Native Americans, and to this day uneven health outcomes for people of color continue to exist.
There are reasons for distrust. But there's also a lot of disinformation out there, and there are also more than 500,000 Americans dead.

That last part is the most important and why we need to solve this problem, and it's going to take a multi-directional, multi-disciplinary solution.

Another #MeToo Moment, Con't

A second former aide has accused New York Dem Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, as state Republicans (and not a small number of Democrats) call for his resignation and/or impeachment over COVID-19 spread in nursing homes.
A second former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is accusing him of sexual harassment, saying that he asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men.

The aide, Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until she left in November, told The New York Times that the governor had harassed her late last spring, during the height of the state’s fight against the coronavirus.

Ms. Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo in his State Capitol office. In a series of interviews this week, she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.

Mr. Cuomo said in a statement to The Times on Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He said he had requested an independent review of the matter and asked that New Yorkers await the findings “before making any judgments.”
Ms. Bennett said that during the June encounter, the governor, 63, also complained to her about being lonely during the pandemic, mentioning that he “can’t even hug anyone,” before turning the focus to Ms. Bennett. She said that Mr. Cuomo asked her, “Who did I last hug?”

Ms. Bennett said she had tried to dodge the question by responding that she missed hugging her parents. “And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she said.

Mr. Cuomo never tried to touch her, Ms. Bennett said, but the message of the entire episode was unmistakable to her.

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Ms. Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Cuomo said he wants a full, fair, and independent investigation into the matter and has asked state AG Tisha James and Janet DiFiore, the state's Chief Judge of the state's Court of Appeals, to do just that.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the state's attorney general and chief appeals court judge to jointly appoint an independent lawyer to investigate claims that he sexually harassed at least two women who worked for him. 
The move came after legislative leaders assailed Cuomo's plan to appoint a retired federal judge to conduct the probe.

“The Governor’s Office wants a review of the sexual harassment claims made against the Governor to be done in a manner beyond reproach,” Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, said. “We had selected former Federal Judge Barbara Jones, with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity, but we want to avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics."

Garvey said the Democratic governor's administration has asked Attorney General Letitia James and Janet DiFiore, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, “to jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report.”

Garvey said the report “will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge.”


Tish James is calling BS on this, as state law makes it clear that it's her call. Cuomo has to face the music sooner rather than later, resignation, impeachment, or election.

Or indictment. 

It's ironic that Cuomo would be prosecuted successfully by Tisha James before Donald Trump would be, but we Democrats have to take a close look at the failures of our own leaders before we can truly fix everyone's problems.

Regardless, Cuomo's days look to be numbered.

Sunday Long Read: Dinner With Old Friends

This week's Sunday Long Read is Tananarive Due's Vanity Fair interview with Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins on the 30th anniversary of Silence of the Lambs, one of the scariest movies nerdy teenage me could have seen as the 90's were just getting underway.

When Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins joined me on a video call to talk about The Silence of the Lambs for the movie’s 30th anniversary, they hadn’t seen each other in more than a decade, so there was more giddy laughter than you would expect from a conversation about murder and mayhem.

The late Jonathan Demme’s movie was, of course, based on the best-selling novel by Thomas Harris. It’s the story of FBI trainee Clarice Starling, who’s sent to the figurative depths of hell to probe the mind of the refined, if cannibalistic, serial killer Hannibal Lecter and secure his advice about capturing another depraved murderer named Buffalo Bill (played by Ted Levine). There has always been criticism of the way Silence represents transgender issues, which Foster speaks to here. But despite that asterisk, the movie swept all five of the top Oscar categories1, a feat not equaled in the decades since. It has spawned sequels, parodies, and the TV shows Hannibal and Clarice, not to mention the oft-repeated lines about a particular kind of wine and the perils of not properly moisturizing one’s skin.

Foster’s and Hopkins’s careers have yielded many marvels in the intervening years, including, most recently, the former’s turn as a dogged lawyer fighting for the freedom of a Muslim prisoner at Guantánamo Bay in The Mauritanian and the latter’s in a tour de force as a man battling dementia in The Father.

Our conversation? You guessed it. It was like having old friends for dinner.

When was the last time you watched Silence?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: I saw it about five years ago.

JODIE FOSTER: I saw it just a couple years ago. They were doing something at, like, the oldest movie theater in Los Angeles, and they had a 35-millimeter print, and the boys had never seen The Silence of the Lambs, so I took them all to see the movie. And I kind of thought like, Oh, you know, it’s an older movie, and it’s not going to be scary to them.

Was it still pretty intense?

FOSTER: I think it was. And what’s surprising about that is that there’s really no blood and gore. There’s only really one scene that is at all gory. The movie is so scary because it seeps into people’s consciousness through fears. It really works on fear more than anything else.

What was seeing it again like for you, Tony?

HOPKINS: I’m thrilled that the movie worked. I’m proud to be in it. I was in the theater, in London, and my agent phoned me—Jeremy Conway, his name was—and he said, “I’m sending a script over to the theater called The Silence of the Lambs.” I said, “Is it a children’s story?” I didn’t know. “No,” he said. “It’s with Jodie Foster.” I said, “Oh.”

I think Jodie just won the Oscar for The Accused, actually. So I came to the dressing room and I started reading it, and I got through about 10 pages. When [the FBI agent] Crawford2 said, “You don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head,” I thought, Ooh, that’s it. I phoned my agent, and I said, “Is this an offer? This is the best part I could ever…” He said, “Well, it’s not a big part.” I said, “I don’t care.”

The way Ted Tally had written it—it was so indelible in my mind. [Laughs.] I don’t know what it is that’s in my brain—I’m fairly normal most of the time—but I know what scares people, and I believe that stillness is the key. You know, we don’t look at anyone too long. We look away, or we laugh to disarm ourselves. But if you stare at someone for more than 10 seconds, it scares them. And you can do it, you can test people. I knew instinctively that I should be absolutely still. All the talk about “He’s a monster…” I thought, Well, go to the opposite. Play him nice.

FOSTER: We met at a reading. I didn’t really get a proper meet with Tony. So we’re sitting across from each other, and he launches in, and we start the reading. And I was just petrified. [Laughs.] I was kind of too scared to talk to him after that.

He did another movie, and I started the film without him. I still kept that kind of hold-your-breath feeling about the character just from that first reading. Jonathan wanted to use this technique that Hitchcock talked about, where you have the actors use the camera as the other person. And I think there was something really interesting about that for the film, but that also meant that Tony and I couldn’t see each other. For a lot of the close-ups, we were looking into a camera lens and the other person was just a voice in the background. And—remember?—they had to lock you into the glass prison cell. So he would do a whole day inside the prison cell, and they wouldn’t let him out. We’d just do his side. And then the next day, we’d do my side.

HOPKINS: Also, they discovered before we started filming that there would be a problem if there were bars on the prison cell for left and right eyelines. So the designer—it was Kristi Zea—came up with a Perspex thing, which makes it even more frightening, because he’s like a tarantula in a bottle. No visual borderline between the two. It was more terrifying, because it’s a dangerous creature in a bottle who can do anything. He could break the glass.

This one is fascinating, folks. This is one of my all-time Top 10 movies, and I'm glad to see both Hopkins and Foster still talk about this film.

Still not eating dinner at his house though. 

And Why Should We Believe You, America?

Joe Biden tells the world America is back. The world is no longer giving Joe Biden the benefit of the doubt, and unless Biden delivers very quickly on the diplomatic scene, we'll be done as a major diplomatic player for a generation or longer.

For President Biden and his circle, a low point in America’s global standing under President Donald Trump came when he blew up a meeting of U.S. allies in 2018, accusing close partners of “robbing” the United States and hurling insults at his Canadian host.

So it was no accident that Biden’s push to reclaim American leadership in recent days has pointedly included a starring role for Canada, as the new administration seeks to woo an array of allies with a message that “America is back.”

But it’s increasingly clear that Biden cannot simply sweep up the broken diplomatic china and restore the world order that reigned when he was vice president. There is one simple reason: Allies know Trumpism could always come back, either in a 2024 bid by Trump himself or from another presidential hopeful offering a similar pitch.

That has left friends and foes alike with doubts about the value of any new American commitments, given the country’s deep political divide and the possibility that the pendulum could swing back in four years. Allies have begun hedging their bets, musing about a Europe-only security force and exploring wider trade with China.

That’s even true for America’s closest allies, like Great Britain. “The Bidenites say with good reason that they recognize that ‘not politics as usual’ was the theme of the election in the past few years,” Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the United States, said. “It is a theme that they know they’re going to have to contend with.”

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said “there’s no doubt” that foreign leaders now wonder about America’s reliability, given the country’s divisions and the persistence of support for Trump.
Biden directly addresses those doubts in his conversations with his foreign counterparts, Sullivan said in an interview, reminding allies of a history of bipartisan support for institutions such as NATO.

“The president has laid out a strong case about why that is not isolated to one party or one president, that the last four years were an aberration and not some kind of new normal,” Sullivan said.

Biden has spoken to roughly a dozen heads of state since taking office. In addition to recommitting to NATO, the United Nations and global climate efforts, Sullivan said, Biden starts nearly all the calls by recognizing any global agenda for the United States is tied to addressing not only the pandemic at home, but the country’s internal divisions.

“That work at home is vital to our credibility internationally,” Sullivan said, summarizing Biden’s message.
Good thing, because America's global credibility is zero. The fact that Dems are holding on to power by dangling from a cliff is a worst-kept secret in the world right now, and any single mistake plunges the world into chaos and flame as America burns.  

It will take decades for anyone to even remotely trust us again.

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